Northside Health Library

Talking to your teen about drinking

Alternate Names

Underage drinking - talking; Risky drinking - talking to teens; Alcohol abuse - talking to teens


Alcohol abuse is not just an adult problem. Most American high school seniors have had an alcoholic drink within the past month.

About 1 in 5 teens are considered problem drinkers. This means they:

  • Get drunk
  • Have accidents related to drinking
  • Get into trouble with the law, their family, friends, school, or dates because of their drinking

The best time to begin talking with your teen about drugs and alcohol is now. Children as young as 9 years old may become curious about drinking, and they may even try it alcohol.

By Saying Nothing, You Are Saying Something

Saying nothing to your children about drinking may give them the message that teen drinking is okay.Most children choose not to drink because their parents talk with them about it.

The best way for your children to be comfortable talking with you about drinking is to be honest and direct. You may want to prepare and think about what you will say ahead of time.

Tell your child how you feel about their using alcohol. Once you have started talking with your teenager, continue to bring it up at times when you are talking about related issues.

Free and Curious

Puberty and the teenage years are a time of change. Your child may have just started high school or may have just gotten a driver’s license. They may have a sense of freedom they never had before.

Teenagers are curious. They want to explore and do things their own way. But pressure to fit in might make it hard to resist alcohol if it seems like everyone else is trying it.

How to talk with your teen:

  • Encourage your teen to talk to you about their drinking. Remain calm when listening and try not to judge or criticize your teen. Make it comfortable for your teen to tell you about themselves.
  • Let your child know you understand that taking chances is a normal part of growing up.
  • Remind them that drinking comes with serious risks.
  • Tell your child how you feel about their using alcohol.
  • Emphasize they should never drink and drive or ride with a driver who has been drinking.

What to do:

  • Give your child space to explore, but keep track of where they are and who they are with.
  • Always make sure there is a responsible adult where your child is, or nearby.
  • Check in with your child during times they are out with their friends.

How Problems at Home Might Cause Children to Drink

Risky drinking or alcohol abuse in the home can lead to the same habits in children. Children become aware of the drinking patterns of their parents at an early age.

Children are more likely to drink:

  • If conflict is present between parents or caregivers
  • If parents are having money problems or are stressed from work
  • If abuse is occurring at home or the home does not feel safe in other ways

What you can say to your teen:

  • If alcohol abuse runs in the family, it is very important to talk with your child -- do not keep secrets. Your child should know what the risks of drinking are.
  • Talk honestly about how drinking has affected family members. That might mean talking about the effects of alcohol on your own life.
  • Talk openly with your child about money problems or work issues in a way that does not overly scare them. Assure them you are working on these problems.

What to do:

  • Set a good example by drinking responsibly.
  • If you have a problem with alcohol abuse, make the decision to get help quitting.

Get Help for Your Child

If you think your child is drinking but will not talk with you about it, get help. Your child's health care provider may be a good place to start. Other resources are:

  • Local hospitals
  • Public or private mental health agencies
  • Counselors at your child’s school
  • Student health centers
  • Programs such as Alateen, part of the Al-Anon program --

Review Date: 5/17/2012
Reviewed By: David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc.
The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.

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